Ahhhh. Gulp fresh air. Taste the clean, salt air from the Caribbean. Catch the rich, earthy smell of the jungle. Enjoy the sun through the pristine blue shell of morning. Watch the stars under clear, star-filled skies.
As the world grows more and more polluted with the daily waste of six billion souls, those simple pleasures are becoming harder to enjoy.
Except in a few fortunate places such as Belize.
Belize is one of the least polluted places on earth.
Quick, before someone begins to shout and point, I admit there is pollution in Belize. Trash on the roads. Acrid clouds from garbage dumps. Fumes belching from 1966 Impalas. Chemical run-off from agri-businesses. Plastic on the reef, from boors on boats and the unthinking on land.
But the good news, in this respect, is that Belize is too undeveloped, too unpopulated, too devoid of big industry, and in most ways too far behind crazy modern times to have the truly serious pollution problems of its neighbors.
Indeed, Latin America has the worst air pollution in the world. In places, it's worse even than Eastern Europe, which suffered so long from the chemical vomit of Communism. San Salvador, El Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and San José, Costa Rica, in that order, are the three most polluted cities in Central America. At times, these small cities have air with more particulate matter than even the industrialized and unregulated cities of China.
Belize's giant urban neighbor to the north, Mexico City, with 25 million people crammed into a 7,500-feet-high, 500-square-mile bowl surrounded by mountains, with almost no wind, has air pollution so bad you can catch hepatitis just from breathing. Millions of cars and thousands of factories spew contaminants into the air, more than a pound for every resident, every day. A "Day without a Car" scheme takes half a million cars off the street, but ozone pollution is worse than ever.
The air in Mexico City often is the color of urine. Seventy percent of the trees have been destroyed. The water is undrinkable. As pumps suck ground water from below, parts of the city sink up to a foot a year, cracking sewer lines and allowing raw sewage to seep into the ground. But, no matter, four of ten are not connected to the sewage system.
In a world such as this, little Belize is a happy environmental anachronism. A place where a breath of fresh air, cleansed by the deep ocean and the wild bush, is still possible. Where air and water pollution problems, while nothing to ignore, are still manageable.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Lan Sluder is editor and publisher of BELIZE FIRST Magazine.